Ep.276: Psalm 136: Repetitious Worship Songs.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.

Do modern worship songs annoy you when they sing the same line over and over? Spoiler alert: you’d better  avoid Psalm 136. Every verse repeats the same phrase. Listen:
  Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
       His kindness is forever.
  Give thanks to the God of gods.
      His kindness is forever.
  Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
      His kindness is forever.
    He alone does great wonders.
      His kindness is forever (vv. 1-4). 

How’s that! “His kindness is forever”  occurs 26 times in 26 verses. When I read the psalm I start skipping the refrain after a few repetitions, instead of hearing and receiving it all 26 times. 

Repetition, of course, has a long and respectable history in poetry and music. Think, for example, of the Twelve Days of Christmas in which my true love gives me a partridge in a pear tree every day for twelve days, for twelve days, for twelve days, for twelve days! And what about “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”? Have you ever sung all 99 bottles?

Gentle repetition in worship draws me from the critical and analytical focus that colors much of my thinking. But finding God in worship requires effort. If I  lift my hands, still my mind, and turn my heart to God, I sometimes move into a deep and quiet sense of God’s presence. And sometimes not. Too often, I just want to get through the service. Sooner the better. 

The first 135 psalms bring a wide spectrum of human experience into God’s presence–elation and depression, joy and sorrow, victory and defeat, despair and hope. Now, in Psalm 136, the poet sets up a vibrant refrain that asserts God’s goodness in each period of Israel’s history. Moving quietly through the repetition stills my heart, bringing hope that God watches over my history too. 

Let’s pray.

Our father, in your forever kindness, you created the world. You rescued Israel from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. 

In your forever kindness, you breathe into us life and growth and hope. You watch over us as we fumble and stumble our way, as we learn to navigate the world and seek you in it. 

In your forever kindness, you saw that we were stuck in sin. You sent your son to free us from the muck and set us on a pilgrimage to you. 

In your forever kindness, you meet us when we seek you, you comfort us in our grief, you rejoice with us when  life is good. 

In your forever kindness, we have a home in you, and you have a home in us. With the poet:
  We give you thanks, God of heaven,
    Your love endures forever (v. 26). 


I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”. 

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